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The Rufford Rose - the murder mystery novel based on the history of Rufford Old Hall

PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 November 2018

Rufford Old Hall was built by Robert Hesleth during the reign of Henry VII

Rufford Old Hall was built by Robert Hesleth during the reign of Henry VII

Archant

Fact and fiction merge to create a tale of murder and kidnap in a novel based on Rufford Old Hall by National Trust volunteer Margaret Lambert

Margaret Lambert has been a guide at Rufford and helps with conservation workMargaret Lambert has been a guide at Rufford and helps with conservation work

West Lancashire in the mid 16th century – a flat, boggy, exposed landscape with a massive body of fresh water, Martin Mere, the largest in England at the time. Sparsely inhabited and remote, yet it is in this uninspiring place that Robert Hesketh decides to build a grand new house, Rufford Hall.

The illegitimate son of Thomas Hesketh, a wealthy local landowner, his inheritance was assured by his father before his death and despite protests from his father’s three sisters, Robert wins the court case and sets about constructing a home to be worthy of the family name. With a vast fortune from his father, Robert can afford the best and the resulting house was a tribute to his ambition.

Although we know about the Hesketh family and its fortune, we know nothing about the men who did the actual building so here was a chance to create a story featuring those craftsmen.

For the last 13 years I have been a volunteer for the National Trust, the current owners of Rufford Old Hall as it is now known. I have come to know and love the place, its history and family, its changes and developments over the centuries. The Hesketh family owned it from its building in the 1530s until 1936 when they gave it to the Trust. It was not always their main home, they built a new hall nearby in the 18th century and inherited others through marriage, but the Old Hall was never uninhabited.

There have been new wings built over the centuries, other parts have been demolished and the only remaining Tudor section is the magnificent Great Hall, with its hammerbeam roof timbers enriched by carved angels. The eye is drawn to the roof where carved wooden bosses display coats of arms of heiresses the Heskeths married to enrich their estates, and at the western end a magnificent Tudor Rose, a tribute to Henry VIII.

It was this carving which was the inspiration for my book, The Rufford Rose. Over the last two years a large amount of renovation involved the removal of all the wattle and daub – the white bits – to be replaced with proper lathe and plaster. We were able to see the bare bones of the building as the Tudor air-conditioning was displayed – more accurately, gaping holes in the walls. I was able to talk to the craftsmen about their task and as I watched them carry out this skilled work I wondered how the original builders would have done it without the aid of steel scaffolding and ladders, how would they have reached the high roof and lifted the great timbers with only basic ropes, pulleys and brute strength?

The idea expanded – who were the men involved, how many were there, what were their skills? The amount of carving led me to Cuthbert, the hero of the book, a talented woodcarver who finds his task frustrated by an unpleasant master builder and a jealous and work-shy apprentice. The Tudor Rose was his idea, carved in miniature first as a love token for the village girl and later carved as a boss for the roof.

So the story grew as Cuthbert struggles to make his mark, Will, the apprentice, endangers his life and Abel, the master builder, resents everything Cuthbert tries to do. There is love and death, jealousy and a dark secret which eventually leads to a kidnap and murder before the house is complete.

I have always enjoyed visiting historic places and imagining the lives of those who lived there. Here was my chance to imagine a time when Rufford was under construction, to people it with both real characters and purely fictional ones. The publication of The Rufford Rose has been the fulfilment of my dream. I do hope you will enjoy it and look out for a sequel.

Margaret Lambert is a former teacher who lives in Preston with her husband. Her book, The Rufford Rose, is published by Clink Street Publishing, RRP £9.99 paperback, 3.99 ebook.

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